I was very interested to read the article posted by the Beauty of Travel website giving their opinion on the 50 top cities to visit before you leave this mortal coil.
Any such list is of course subjective and it is very difficult to narrow down to only 50. I am happy to say that I have visited 30 of the ones listed, with most of the others on the ‘to do’ list. Read the whole article by clicking below:
I must admit to being pretty surprised that there was no mention of St Petersburg, Cape Town, Montreal, Barcelona, Madrid, Dublin, Edinburgh, Luang Prabang, New Orleans, Moscow…………… I could go on and on.
My personal favourite would be Aleppo in Syria, but of course that is likely to be a no go place for many years unfortunately.
This set me thinking however about my top ten European cities that I have visited that did not feature on the website’s list or the few notable exceptions that I have just mentioned.
I had difficulty getting this down to just ten, so much so that I have stretched this to a top twenty and even then I have to send apologies to Strasbourg, Thessaloniki, Vilnius & Bruges, who all just failed to make my cut.
I will count down now from 20-11 and reveal my top ten in a few days………
Aix has a lovely feel to it. A vibrant student population turn the squares into atmospheric outdoor drinking dens at night. Being in bed before midnight is strictly forbidden!
The city of a thousand fountains (exaggerated, but there are a fair few) also enjoys great natural light by day where lines of majestic plane trees abound along the wide main boulevard.
The main cathedral has a superb cloisters, whilst the leafy old town houses plenty of interesting shops, cafes and boulangeries.
Add in its proximity to the idyllic Provencal villages, and it is easy to see why Aix is a universal hit. See my November 14 archives for more detail about Aix & Provence.
Ever since I saw a picture of Cadiz’s golden domed cathedral in a magazine, I wanted to go and visit. I was not to be disappointed. The clamber to the top of the aforementioned dome and the spectacular view of the sparkling blue sea was indeed a highlight.
So too however was the authentically sweaty & earthy flamenco viewed in a dingy club situated on one of the narrow streets of the ancient barrio, an area that appeared to have stood still since the times of press gangs & pirates.
Add to that the fact that Cadiz is the perfect city base to explore the sherry bodegas (distilleries) of Jerez & Santa Maria, as well as the picture perfect Pueblos Blancos (white villages) and you won’t be wanting for something to do if you choose one of Europe’s southern most cities for a short break.
The Baltic city of Gdansk is not renowned for being pretty, even if the Hanseatic period walled old town is certainly picturesque. Entering the Golden Gate into the cobbled square of the old town, you get a real sense of merchants and rich cargo, a real display of wealth.
You can imagine yourself in Amsterdam or Rotterdam as the typically Dutch style tall, narrow buildings with their gabled roofs look down upon you.
Take a wooden masted schooner tour to Westerplatte, scene of the first angry shots of World War II, view the amazing man-powered hamster wheel winch that used to load and unload tons of cargo off tea clippers & grain barges, or my own personal favourite, a visit to the historic shipyards, home of Solidarity, Lech Walesa and the labour protests that did so much to bring down the Berlin Wall.
Gdansk is one part of what is known as the tri-city, encompassing Gdynia and the trendy beach resort of Sopot, all a stones throw from one another.
Finally, Gdansk is a gateway to the intriguing Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, a three-four hour bus ride away (organise your 72-hour tourist visa first though).
There is just one word to describe the feeling of the Estonian capital, Mediaeval. It feels like you have landed in the Middle Ages, with the ancient city walls surrounding the compact Old Town, the red roof houses, the cobbled squares, the magnificent Nevsky Cathedral and the Gothic stone clock tower.
Some may say that Tallinn overdoes it a little with all the banquet restaurants where you feast on wild boar, venison & barley washed down with honey beer. OK, the mock sword fights are a bit too much, but just go with the flow and it is all an enjoyable romp.
Another of my winter favourites, Tallinn in the snow is just beautiful.
I have never been to the Oktoberfest, but am told by those who have recently that it has become a bloated, over-priced, tourist affair.
Not to worry, the Bavarian capital has a lot more to offer. The highlight for me is one of Europe’s finest squares (Marienplatz) housing the Rathaus (town hall) and the Glockenspiel (clock tower) and other ornate buildings.
Having an al fresco beer in the city with the brooding Alps looming in the background, is a wonderful pleasure.
Whilst I was there, I took a tour to the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle, 128KM and two hours away. Highly recommended.
15 Avignon/Villeneuve D’Avignon
The monolithic Palace of the Popes dominates the skyline for miles around, testament to the wealth & power of the Gallic pontiffs of the Middle Ages.
Whilst the gigantic-honey coloured palace is rightfully Avignon’s ace card, the whole walled city oozes charm and joie de vivre throughout its cobbled streets and squares.
Visitors should not miss the main city’s younger, but still historic sibling Villeneuve, a short distance across the Rhone River. Fort Saint-Andre and the adjoining Jardins de l’Abbaye Saint-Andre are well worth the effort and have the added plus of offering spectacular views across the valley to the huge palace.
Avignon is also a brilliant place to base yourself for Provencal villages, Roman Arles & Orange and Chateuneuf du Pape, with all its fine wineries
The Venice of the North is actually part of a large Baltic archipelago of islands, with the main city attractions focused on the biggest, Gamla Stan.
Nowhere near as crowded or hassle-some as its Latin rival, Sweden’s capital is however a huge draw and very beautiful in a cool Nordic way.
The people seem happy to a man, woman & child, no doubt buoyed by the incredible standard of living they enjoy. Walking amongst them with Abba & The Cardigans blasting through your headphones is a real delight.
I was actually fortunate enough to once visit in August during the city’s sadly now defunct Water Festival, to be treated to a free open air concert by Sweden’s second favourite pop act.
The first time I went in 1992, I stayed on the Youth Hostel three-masted vessel, the af Chapman, moored on one of the central canals. It is still there and a brilliant way to spend the night dreaming of bygone Viking heroes.
A tad expensive overall for sure, but staying in hostels and sticking to chain restaurants means your money will last. Just don’t expect cheap beer!
What a diamond the Montenegrin city of Kotor is. Uniquely (for this part of Europe) situated between an inland fjord and brooding black mountains, the setting is really hard to beat.
The yomp up to the mountainside fort is an invigorating wake up call, offering splendid views right along the fjord. The labyrinth of cobbled streets in the old town are just perfect for exploring, whilst the fresh fish served in the plentiful restaurants are both delicious and great value.
Kotor is also just a stones throw from its hugely popular Croatian neighbour of Dubrovnik. I would highly recommend a side trip down the Dalmatian Coast if you ever find yourself in the hugely popular Croat Adriatic jewell. You will find it a delightful respite from the crowds of cruise ship tourists.
Tbilisi? Twelfth? I hear you wonder. Well I was incredibly surprised too at how lovely the Georgian capital is. Georgia may not be rich, but is certainly ploughs plenty of investment the capital’s way.
Take a cable car or stiff walk up to the fort for inspiring views across the city, taking in stately old churches & striking modern architecture either side of the sparkling waters of the Mtkvari River, whilst stood at the giant feet of Mother Georgia, protector of these parts.
Georgia claims (as does neighbouring Armenia) to be the birthplace of wine. You can certainly benefit from some great value bottles from any supermarket. If sweet red is your bag, you should take an empty suitcase when you visit!
The former capital of Spain is another European mediaeval delight. The walled birthplace of El Greco is stuffed full of ancient monuments, including an absolutely stunning Gothic cathedral.
Surrounded by the River Tagus, Toledo enjoys a spectacular position with great views from just about every point. Scramble amongst the many man-made fortifications and imagine yourself with bow in hand, defending the ancient city from invaders.
It is only about one hour by train from Madrid and a perfect antidote to the non-stop party of Spain’s modern capital.
So there you have it, my take on some of Europe’s lesser lights, that are all well worth your attention.
Find out my Top Ten soon!